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Farmer v. Troy University

United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division

August 18, 2017

SHARELL FARMER, Plaintiff,
v.
TROY UNIVERSITY, Defendant.

          ORDER

          TERRENCE W. BOYLE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on defendant's motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, [DE 8]. The matter has been fully briefed and is ripe for ruling. For the reasons discussed below, the motion to dismiss is granted and the complaint is dismissed.

         BACKGROUND

         On February 9, 2017, plaintiff filed a complaint alleging two retaliation claims against defendant Troy University. [DE 1]. Plaintiff brought a claim of retaliation pursuant to Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and a second claim of retaliation pursuant to Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. § 1681, et seq. Id.

         Plaintiff was employed by defendant Troy University as a recruiter in its Fayetteville, North Carolina office. In his complaint, plaintiff alleges that on May 22, 2015, he emailed Kara Hall in Troy University's Human Resources Department and set forth several concerns about the work environment at the recruiting office for which he worked. [DE 1 at ¶ 8]. Plaintiff first noted his concern that the local manager and her assistant referred to a student as a "faggott, " which plaintiff believes is "discriminatory against gay people." Id. at ¶ 9. Plaintiff also told Kara Hall that the same manager and assistant discussed "penis sizes of black and white men" with a student, which plaintiff believes is "discriminatory with regards (sic) to both the plaintiff and the student." Id. at ¶ 10. Finally, plaintiff complained that the manager told him that Troy University's site in Fayetteville, North Carolina was a "site of all blacks . . . referring to the racial composition of the staff, " that "things would have been different if [the site's staff] were a white ..., " and that Troy University is "racist" and "the school was even on a road named after a public racist." Id.

         Ms. Hall acknowledged receipt of plaintiff s email on May 22, 2015 and interviewed him regarding his concerns on June 4, 2015. Id. at ¶ 13, 15. According to plaintiff, unnamed persons then engaged in retaliation by disciplining him with a written warning and suspending him, id. at ¶ 16-17, and also by changing.his schedule to "his detriment" and to be "less favorable than other employees who had not filed discrimination allegations." Id. at ¶ 18. Plaintiff further alleges that on September 9, 2015, Ms. Gainey notified him that his employment was terminated and that this was an act of retaliation. Id. at ¶ 23.

         On March 31, defendant moved to dismiss plaintiffs first claim pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(2), arguing that the Eleventh Amendment bars the claim because defendant is a public corporation or governmental entity of the state of Alabama. [DE 8]. Defendant also moved to dismiss both claims pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). Id.

         DISCUSSION

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) authorizes dismissal of a claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. When subject matter jurisdiction is challenged, the plaintiff has the burden of proving jurisdiction to survive the motion. Evans v. B.F. Perkins Co., 166 F.3d 642, 647-50 (4th Cir. 1999). "In determining whether jurisdiction exists, the district court is to regard the pleadings' allegations as mere evidence on the issue, and may consider evidence outside the pleadings without converting the proceeding to one for summary judgment." Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac R.R. Co. v. United States, 945 F.2d 765, 768 (4th Cir. 1991). The movant's motion to dismiss should be granted if the material jurisdictional facts are not in dispute and the movant is entitled to prevail as a matter of law. Id.

         A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint. Papasan v. Attain, 478 U.S. 265, 283 (1986). When acting on a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), "the court should accept as true all well-pleaded allegations and should view the complaint in a light most favorable to the plaintiff." Mylan Labs., Inc. v. Matkari, 7 F.3d 1130, 1134 (4th Cir.1993). A complaint must allege enough facts to state a claim for relief that is facially plausible. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). Facial plausibility means that the facts pled "allow[] the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged, " and mere recitals of the elements of a cause of action supported by conclusory statements do not suffice. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). A complaint must be dismissed if the factual allegations do not nudge the plaintiffs claims "across the line from conceivable to plausible." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. The complaint must plead sufficient facts to allow a court, drawing on judicial experience and common sense, to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct. Nemet Chevrolet, Ltd. v. Consumeraffairs.com, Inc., 591 F.3d 250, 256 (4th Cir. 2009). The court need not accept the plaintiffs legal conclusions drawn from the facts, nor need it accept as true unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments. Philips v. Pitt County Mem. Hosp., 572 F.3d 176, 180 (4th Cir. 2009). Although the Court must construe the complaint of a pro se plaintiff liberally, such a complaint must still allege "facts sufficient to state all the elements of [her] claim" in order to survive a motion to dismiss. Bass v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co., 324 F.3d 761, 765 (4th Cir. 2003).

         In considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the Court may consider documents attached to the complaint, as well as those attached to the motion to dismiss so long as they are integral to the complaint and authentic. Fed.R.Civ.P. 10(c); Sec 'y of State for Defence v. Trimble Navigation Ltd., 484 F.3d 700, 705 (4th Cir. 2007); Philips v. Pitt County Mem 7 Hosp., 572 F.3d 176, 180 (4th Cir. 2009). A court ruling on a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) may also properly take judicial notice of matters of public record. Sec'y of State for Defence, 484 F.3d at 705.

         Defendant first moved pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) to dismiss plaintiffs claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, arguing that, as a state university and an agency or instrumentality of the state of Alabama, defendant is immune against such a claim under the Eleventh Amendment. See Williams v. Bennett, 689 F.2d 1370 (11th Cir. 1982), cert, denied, 464 U.S. 932 (1983); Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderrnan, 465 U.S. 89, 121 (1984); Quern v. Jordan, 440 U.S. 332, 341 (1979); Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 672 (1974); Massler v. Troy State University, 343 So.2d 1 (Ala. 1977). Plaintiff admits that defendant is a state entity and immune from suit. [DE 10 at 1]. Accordingly, plaintiffs first claim under Section 1981 is dismissed.

         Defendant next moved to dismiss plaintiffs second claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), arguing that the complaint fails to state a claim under which can be granted. Plaintiffs second cause of action alleges retaliation in violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. §1681, etseq. ("Title IX"). Title IX provides, with certain exceptions, that "[n]o person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance." 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a). In Preston v. Virginia ex rel. New River Community College, the Fourth Circuit recognized a cause of action under Title IX for retaliation against the victim of sex-based discrimination. 31 F.3d 203 (4th Cir. 1993). Courts have generally applied Title VII standards and burdens to Title IX cases. Id. To establish a plausible Title IX retaliation claim, therefore, a plaintiff must allege sufficient facts to show: (1) engagement in a protected activity; (2) an adverse action; and (3) a causal connection between the protected activity and the adverse action. See Coleman v. Md. Court of Appeals, bib F.3dl87, 190 (4th Cir. 2010).

         A claim of hostile work environment is only actionable under Title IX if the alleged hostility amounts to sex-based discrimination. See Jennings v. Univ. of N. Carolina, 482 F.3d at 695; see also Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Servs.,523 U.S. 75, 80 (1998) ("[T]he critical issue [in a sexual harassment claim under Title VII] is whether members of one sex are exposed to disadvantageous terms or conditions of employment to which members of the other sex are not exposed.")- Similarly, a claim of retaliation under Title IX only lies where the ...


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